Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Mira, Reka Kirashima, and Park U-Rim.
Directed By: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Where I Watched It: HBO MAX
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
The Plot: An actor/director is offered the chance to launch a production of uncle Vanya at a theatre festival at Hiroshima. The festival that hires him requires him to have his own personal driver, as a safety precaution. he learns more about himself, and his driver, as well as those closest to him as he unpacks his own emotional baggage that lies parallel to the context of the play he’s directing, pulling him closer to dealing with tragedy from his past that he has tried to package away.
What Works: I’m so happy that HBO MAX came in clutch with the audio description. When the title first dropped on the service, there was no English of any kind. Not even basic dubbing. I, of course, called and complained to HBO that a Best Picture nominee should warrant accessibility. It’s a major enough title. And even though i kept checking back, it seems like somewhere fairly close to the Oscars it actually got the track, so I watched it the day of. A last minute watch of a three hour film.
It’s also just a really interesting three hour film, even though there’s no flash or bang going on. Nothing really explodes, there aren’t action sequences. It’s a three hour meditative drama asking heavy life questions, and it is never boring. That’s the films greatest accomplishment is making a film with this runtime that actually maintains your interest without the need for any extra effects.
It’s just embracing these characters, their stories, and the attention to detail given to their complexities, and watching that story unfold. It’s accepting that this story is so universal, it could have come from anywhere. Not that I would ever advocate for an English language remake, but there’s very little specific to Japanese culture here that couldn’t have translated and substituted in any other language or country. If this was made in Paraguay, with an equally talented director and cast, it would still resonate, because at the heart of Drive My Car is an emotionally resonant story about the human condition, and the bonds and relationship we make for life. The commitment to one’s work, to one’s art, to pursuing a passion even in the face of tragedy. Drive My Car is so incredibly just like it should be, a film wrapped up not in style, but in substance.
I would avoid checking out IMDB before watching this, as i would consider their plot description to be a spoiler if you know nothing about the film. It talks about something that doesn’t happen until about 45 minutes into the film, And then, the opening credits roll. It’s a bold choice, sort of like a mic drop, to put your credits at the end of the first act, but when your movie is three hours long, it also still somehow feels like the credits are at the beginning.
But, I didn’t really cover those first 45 minutes and how they affect the course of the film. i will mention something later specifically for my blind audience that is not really a spoiler, but someone overly sensitive might consider it one. So, check out The Blind Perspective for that note.
What Doesn’t Work: I’m not really sure there is anything here that didn’t work. Normally I would be balking about the runtime, something I had a preconceived notion would damper this film, but it doesn’t. I even loved all of the little choices, as someone who works in live theatre also, seeing the casting process when they invite a host of talent that speaks different languages to audition, and then craft a cast that doesn’t all speak the same language but uses this universal classic text of Uncle Vanya to communicate. One of the actresses actually hails from Hong Kong and speaks English, and another is mute and speaks using sign language. Yet somehow, this production moves forward in an incredibly interesting way.
I even appreciated that our lead was disheartened to have a driver, because the act of driving is his process. He uses the time in his car to work on lines, running a tape in the car, he can go through his scenes. There’s a bit of that trepidation of having a driver, and being able to achieve that same goal, but he manages to make it work. As someone who has been on stage before, I used my car rides a lot for vocal warmups, and running through my music, so I immediately understood how that could be something he’d worry about. Now that I can’t see and can’t drive, the idea of me being driven by someone else while I’m riding in the car, singing full blast seems very odd to me, if I were ever to need to do that again.
Basically, it all works. No wonder it broke out of the international race and into the Best Picture race, because this movie is damn near perfect.
The Blind Perspective: As I mentioned before, something I think my blind and visually impaired audience will relate to is that our protagonist is diagnosed with glaucoma in the first act, and hearing the diagnoses as someone who suffers the same condition, felt spot on. He’s told he’s already lost some vision, and he wasn’t even aware he was losing it, and he’s prescribed eye drops, which the film makes sure we see him take later. The audio description even lets us know that a drop runs down his cheek in the process. Really, it hit home for me.
While I never noticed any mention of who did the narration or where it came from, this track is excellent, as it not just runs an audio description, but the dubbing for the characters feature different narrators matching to characters of a specific gender. Male voices on male presenting, and female on female presenting. It’s a little touch, but it does make it easier to follow in some of the more crowded dialogue scenes when you can follow the different voices.
Final Thoughts: A beautiful film, one I’m deeply grateful to have seen, and wholeheartedly recommend to anyone. If you avoid foreign titles, you end up missing on ideas and concepts that are different than your own, but also the realization of just how connected we all are.
Final Grade: A